Massage: More Than an Indulgence for Athletes | Sports Medicine November 2012

Looking to improve your performance, avoid injury, or recover from one? Massage could be the answer.

Everyone knows that a massage feels good, but are there really benefits to getting regular bodywork? General results for athletes include increased flexibility, reduced muscle soreness, and quicker recovery. However, there are even greater benefits from sport-specific massage: the more specific the technique, the more targeted the results.

Sport-specific massage focuses on the muscles and connective tissue used in a particular activityand often stressed from overuse. Targeted techniques such as compression, friction, and stripping to specific areas can be used to improve your performance, avoid injury, or aid in the recovery from one.

Repetitive motion of any type can lead to adhesions within the tissue, resulting in restrictions and reduced range of motion, which can inhibit performance. Massage is ideal for loosening adhesions and correcting muscular imbalances, resulting in greater strength and improved flexibility. In fact, a massage can actually make you stronger; a tight muscle is not performing at its optimal strength.

For example, runners typically exhibit tight hip flexors, adductors, and calves; hamstrings and glutes can be tight or weak. The symptoms are rarely symmetrical. A massage therapist trained for sport-specific work will look at muscular imbalances and develop a treatment plan to keep you strong and performing optimally.

Strength and flexibility are key in preventing injury. Most strains and sprains are the result of muscular imbalances. Targeted massage to loosen restricted areas can release strain in surrounding muscles; for example, tight calves can create too much strain on the hamstrings, making them vulnerable to injury.

Massage can also aid in recovery from injury. The Feb. 1, 2012, issue of Science Translational Medicine published a study that confirmed that massage actually helps in recovery from physical exercise. Muscle biopsies were taken from men who were asked to exercise to exhaustion. Biopsies were then taken from both legs; one leg was massaged after exercising, the other was not. They concluded that massage “appears to be clinically beneficial by reducing inflammation and promoting mitochondrial biogenesis.”

Different age groups have different needs. For older adults, recovery time is longer, flexibility is reduced. Women going through hormonal changes may experience increased fascial tightness due to hypothyroid conditions and an increase in the inflammatory response during this time of life.

Sprains and strains, tendinitis, spasms and cramps, even nerve compression can be eased with focused massage. A trained sports massage therapist will develop a treatment plan to keep you healthy or get you back on track as quickly as possible.

Sport-Specific Massage for Athletes
In choosing a massage therapist, decide what your goals are and find a therapist who has experience working with similar issues.

If you want to enhance your training, flush out toxins after an event, or play pain-free, consider integrating massage into your training program. Whether you compete or play for fun, massage is a great way to play at your best and avoid overuse symptoms. Anyone participating in regular physical activity can benefit! 

Lynne Walker

Lynne Walker is a certified neuromuscular therapist practicing in Norwich, Vermont. She grew up in New England on the back of a horse, and now rides mostly bicycles.